WASHINGTON — An email sent by the Trump campaign this week cited a news story claiming that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has experienced a 300 percent increase in call volume, but representatives for the organizations responsible for handling those calls say that figure is incorrect.
“Today’s terrible news that phone calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotlines have spiked 300% make it clear that the President was speaking to the cost of human lives that the media, experts, and policy makers cannot ignore,” says the email sent Wednesday, whose subject line reads “President Trump Speaks to Emerging Reality of Increased Suicides.”
President Trump in recent days has indicated that he wants to reopen businesses after Easter, arguing that the economic cost of a nationwide shutdown could ultimately have a worse impact on people than the spread of the coronavirus, a contention that has evoked widespread criticism. During a recent interview on Fox News, Trump said many Americans may attempt suicide due to the ailing economy.
“You are going to lose people. You are going to have suicides by the thousands,” he said. “You can’t just come in and say, ‘Let’s close up the United States of America.’”
The note also cites a fact check from the Associated Press that casts skepticism on Trump’s claims about the potential of rising suicide rates. Then, in a subsequent paragraph, the campaign cites data from Valley News Live, a media outlet in Fargo, N.D.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline refuted the claim in that article, however.
“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has not experienced significant changes in call volume at this time,” Frances Gonzalez, spokesperson for the organization, wrote in an email to Yahoo News. Gonzalez added that the service consists of a network of “locally operated crisis centers” that offer many crisis lines in addition to the Lifeline.
“Many of those centers answer other crisis lines in addition to taking Lifeline calls, such as state and local lines,” wrote Gonzalez. “Their experiences regarding their local crisis lines may differ.”
When asked about the figure, the Trump campaign pointed to other news articles that cite an increased call volume for hotlines in Portland, Ore., and Boston. The Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee, both McClatchy papers, published a story citing the 300 percent figure reported by Valley News Live.
McClatchy editors are reviewing the source material, a spokesperson told Yahoo News.
The Valley News Live story cited data provided by FirstLink, a North Dakota-based service that assists in answering calls for the helpline and 211, as proof for the dramatic increase.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 211 provides callers with assistance navigating health and human service agencies in their communities. Among services provided is a referral to appropriate suicide prevention hotline organizations.
But the executive director of FirstLink, Cindy Miller, told Yahoo News that her words were misinterpreted. The spike was in reference to those dialing 211 to be linked to services across the state and has nothing to do with its suicide helpline, she said.
Miller maintained she did not use the 300 percent figure to reference hotline numbers while she was being interviewed by Valley News Live.
“We answer the 211 lines, and 30 percent of those have seen a 300 percent increase in their call volume,” explained Miller. She added that the hotline calls to FirstLink are coming in at about the same rate as before the coronavirus crisis.
After being contacted by Yahoo News, Valley News Live updated its story to read that “some” call centers were receiving increased volumes.
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